Pigeon drones

Karl and his guild of fuelers had a good week. They had refined fuel stuffed in every cubic meter of their gaggle of Starfarers, Caterpillars, and even the odd Connie whose owners retrofitted them for fueling instead of fighting. Now they just needed to know where to go.

Each ship in their group was arrayed around incoming jump points in the Osiris system. They all had scanners and guns hot, looking for one thing – the next pigeon drone to pop through the jump point.

“Detecting activity, Karl,” said Melissa. “Spooling up the turrets.” With a flash and a small distortion wave, a pigeon drone winked into existence. “Receiving… and firing,” Melissa said calmly. The turret on her Starfarer flared briefly and the pigeon drone ceased to exist.

“Another plea for fuel… and the price just doubled again,” Melissa informed Karl, not bothering to hide the excitement in her voice. Karl smiled, knowing his guild’s tactic of intercepting pigeon drones was interrupting the flow of economic information into Osiris. There were lots of other crews mining the gas giant here, but they had no idea about the fuel shortage and spiking prices. Karl’s destruction of the pigeon drones intended to relay commercial news between systems had seen to that…

If you read the tables in the inaugural Star Citizen Economy CommLink and watched Chris Roberts’ video, you should’ve caught two things. In Table 1.0 “Node Types”, there was the mention of pigeon drones. Starting at 0:50 in the video, you saw how commerce requests generated in one system slowly and sequentially propagate through adjacent systems.

Solar systems cannot communicate with each other instantly since there is no FTL communications capability in the Star Citizen universe. To share communications between systems, “pigeon drones” are used. Think of them like carrier pigeons – tasked with transporting information between two systems. The pigeon drone is loaded with news and economic information, then sent through a jump point. It arrives in the next system and flashes the loaded data to that system’s network of communications satellites. In this way, economic data are propagated sequentially system-to-system.

In any economy, the person who gets information first has the first chance to profit. That chance of profit goes up exponentially if the person receiving the information first can then control the dissemination of that information – slowing or even redirecting it. In the dynamic Star Citizen economy, repeated unanswered requests for commerce result in a state of increased demand. Increased demand usually generates higher prices – which in Karl’s case means he can get more money than normal for his guild’s refined fuel since he’s co-opting the economic information entering Osiris.

Karl’s fuel isn’t any better than others who mine the Osiris gas giant. His only competitive advantage is he’s been depriving other denizens of Osiris of information about fuel orders. Because he’s been intercepting those pigeon drones for a while, those doing the ordering are getting a little desperate and are hiking their prices to attract deliveries. The longer Karl is able to keep suppressing the information, the higher those prices will go.

What isn’t in the fiction is the fact Karl would have to coordinate with others outside the Osiris system. To truly starve others of advertised commerce requests, all pigeon drones exiting the requesting system would have to be suppressed – not just those inbound to Osiris.

I wrote this not to provide a no-miss manual on how controlling information can lead to higher profits. I wrote it to highlight one interesting aspect of system-limited exchanges and CIG’s decision to not use instant communications across the universe. I hear a lot of guilds talking about how they are going to blockade systems to increase their profits. Frankly, that’s not necessary. All they need to do is trash a system’s outbound pigeon drones and they can accomplish much the same thing without the same risk to their ships.

You want to have lots of fun? Grab some mates and load your holds with pigeon drones. Find some system without any ability to produce pigeon drones of their own – and destroy any outbound pigeon drones. Watch the prices for them skyrocket, and profit accordingly.

Of course, the authorities in that system are likely to notice and the local militia or local bounty hunters are likely to be tasked to do something about that – so you’d better pack some firepower to protect that cargo of yours. Such is the multi-arrayed feedback loop described in the inaugural CommLink.

Welcome to the dizzying array of economic strategy and counter strategy envisioned for Star Citizen’s dynamic economy.

9 thoughts on “Pigeon drones

  1. I do like the concept of the pigeon drone system because even if information is tightly controlled, any player with a fast jump-capable ship can run courier missions in the same role as pigeon drones, creating an alternate market for human pigeons. Essentially running blockades with information rather than goods, so there’s that.

    But I would just like to point out that if this pigeon-drone system holds true, online BBS’s (bulletin board systems) where traders post their requested requisition requests will become INCREDIBLY useful. Rather than sending out a requisition order via pigeon drone, I could just post to some public trader website and request 20 tonnes of refined ore and provide a fixed amount I’m willing to pay for the shipment.

    Given the parallel world that exists beyond the Alt+Tab, I feel like pigeon drones can be circumvented altogether with a large-enough player-run bulletin board system, where requests for market trades and barter (e.g. WTS vs WTB) can be conducted completely outside the scope of Star Citizen’s controls. Granted, it may not be as fast as the pigeon drone system, but it’ll be much more reliable, especially between player-to-player transactions. I anticipate Cartels forming outside the ‘verse very quickly.

    • I completely agree with your statement about player-run Alt-Tab BBS systems. In fact, I expect that is how most commerce will be arranged since a single post on a BBS system will instantly propagate to anyone in any system anywhere — whereas the pigeon drones will take much longer.

      The only advantage to posting inside the game fiction is you can get your order filled by NPCs.

      I understand why CIG decided against instant communications and system-limited exchanges. They just need to realize those two decisions will cause most price discovery and supply requests to occur outside Star Citizen on fan-run websites.

      • Yessir. You have it nailed down to a science.

        Also, did you just say that CIG decided against system-limited exchanges? I thought goods and information were only limited within the system you were in, which is why you’d need pigeon drones to get it outside the system.

        • No. They decided FOR system-limited exchanges and against regional or galaxy-wide exchanges.

          As readers of this blog probably know, I disagree with this decision and believe the best way to keep players inside the SC fiction is through the use of larger, regional exchanges. This would also require FTL (instant) communications, which I also favor.

  2. Also, I would like to point out that the above assumes that the player controls manufacturing (i.e. owns factories or refineries or plants). Apologies if that wasn’t clear in my previous statement!

  3. I think that one thing that might keep people in the game, rather that going to BBS’s, would be guaranteed rewards if you’re responding to in game pigeons, were there won’t be a contract to make sure you get paid if you are just responding to someones BBS post.

    • The BBSs would work to direct people into the game where the contract would be fulfilled. If CIG creates an API, the contract could even be filled via the BBS through a contract created in the API.

      What we don’t know is if the contract system works at the speed of communications. In that case, even if you got “early warning” of a contract via the BBS you wouldn’t be able to contract for it in game until the pigeons carried word of the work to your location.

  4. Pigeon drone problems? Great opportunity to start an armed messenger service. Not any slower than the pigeon drones, possibly faster

    • I think folks misunderstand pigeon drones. These are not something a player wishing to transmit a contract sends. They are something automatically sent by each system’s local government. They are NPC/AI in-fiction methods to spread communications between systems.

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